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Oʻahu Restaurants Not Using Vaccination Exemptions

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AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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HONOLULU — Oʻahu restaurants and bars have the option to do away with social distancing if customers provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.

But many restaurant operators aren’t doing so because they aren’t comfortable with the added responsibility, and diners don’t want to show their vaccination cards or present test results.

Honolulu allows eateries to participate in the program under Tier 5 of its COVID-19 pandemic reopening guidelines. Restaurants that did so encountered backlash.

“In the beginning, we were so excited,” said Sheryl Matsuoka, the executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association. "It gave restaurants an option.”

Matsuoka said she expected smaller restaurants to participate in the change.

“But as time went by, we found guests didn’t want to show their card or weren’t vaccinated,” she said. “Visitors were upset because guests came from states with less restrictions.”

Sarah Nguyen, owner of The Pizza Press in Pearl City, said some of her loyal customers chose to be vaccinated while others have not, so she doesn't feel comfortable asking for proof of vaccination.

"I don't know how you would be able to enforce that. I think it'd be really tough," she told HPR. "We're not at that point where we're doing that."

The owner of Giovanni Pastrami, which is in the heart of Waikiki, doesn’t consider the program a viable option.

“Mainly due to the labor shortage and the added compliance and training that would be required for that process, we didn’t want to put our employees in that position,” said Ryan Tanaka, the owner and president of Island Business Management. “We would be managing angry and confused customers who don’t agree with that process.”

Don Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bar and Grill in Chinatown, said he noticed nearby restaurants asked patrons for vaccination cards but received backlash.

“They got eaten alive on social media,” Murphy said. “I don’t want to put my staff through that.”

Sarah Nguyen, owner of The Pizza Press in Pearl City and incoming chair of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, spoke to The Conversation more about the challenges facing the restaurant industry. Click the "Listen" button to hear that interview from July 19, 2021.

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